There are hundreds of weird animals in Africa when you really think about it. Africa is home to astonishing evolution and natural feats.

Cheetahs can run at 120 km/h! Springbok can spend an entire lifetime without drinking water! Elephant trunks and giraffe necks are pretty strange, certainly in comparison to the animals of Europe and America.

Dig a little deeper and the weird animals of Africa can be beyond the imagination. They seem mythical, animals that exist only in photos and videos. But mammals with scales and rodents with spikes are very real, even if they are also very rare.

In this article we celebrate 12 of the weirdest animals in Africa, animals that you will not find anywhere beyond the African continent. From pygmy hippos to pangolins, here are the creatures that blur into fiction.

1. Bat-Eared Fox

Bat-eared fox in the Kalahari desert

A strange name and a strange demeanor, but the bat-eared fox is the most efficient hunter on the African savannah. Sure, it looks weird, with those enormous ears and funky features. Like all animals, these features have a purpose.

The bat-eared fox has incredible hearing. It can detect prey underground. Once a target is located, it burrows in ferociously and chomps onto its target.

2. Ostrich

Male ostrich in the Ngorongoro Crater

Okay, it’s not that exotic and you’ve probably heard of it, but take a moment to analyse this enormous flightless bird. Ostrich can run at 70 km/h and are highly entertaining when they do so. With their bizarre necks and strange gait, this is one of Africa’s weirdest animals.

Ostrich always appear like they are about to fall over. The way they run is just too funny. But their design is perfect. Long spindly legs mean long strides and their wings help to maintain balance at high speeds.

3. Pangolin

Pangolin on the run

Also known as the scaly anteater, the pangolin is perhaps the weirdest African animal of them all. Physically speaking it is highly distinguishable. Here is a mammal with scales. Its armour is like no other, and its plated scales cover most of the body; upper parts, sides and tail.

When placed under stress the little warrior rolls itself into a tight ball to defend itself (like hedgehogs). You don’t want to touch a curled up pangolin. The scales have a very powerful cutting action that can inflict serious wounds.

Pangolin curled up in a tight ball, in defensive mode

The pangolin lives in holes or under dense bush. It eats small insects such as ants and termites, digs them up with its formidable claws and sensitive nose, then catches them with a long sultry tongue.

Although the creature does not possess any teeth, it has a well-developed muscular stomach that grinds its food with the help of ingested sand and gravel.

Unfortunately, the pangolin is the world’s most trafficked animal. High demand for those scales means this weird African animal is fast disappearing.

4. Shoebill

Shoebill at Mabamba Swamp, near Entebbe (Uganda)

Any bird that also goes by the name of whalehead is going to be weird. Shoebills are bizarre Jurassic-looking animals that have evolved into expert hunters. They even eat crocodiles and snakes!

The shoebill is probably the most unusual bird in the world. Standing one metre high, these giant birds wait patiently in African swamps, then lunge at their quarry with a razor sharp beak. Usually its prey is decapitated and then swallowed whole.

And what a looker! Did you ever see a bird appear as bizarre as this?

5. Aardvark

The aardvark is a very unusual "Earth pig"

The aardvark, or “earth pig” (from the Afrikaans word erdvark), is a solitary creature that is seldom seen. Yet reminders of their presence exist in abundance as they dig holes throughout the bush. The cavities are especially visible around termite mounds, which provide most of the animal’s food.

Aardvarks look like pigs, except there is something rather weird in comparison to domesticated sows. Those ears are more like a rabbit’s and the tail resembles a kangaroo.

While they look strange aardvarks are one of the oldest surviving animals in the world. They are the only remaining member of the Tubulidentata and only emerge after dark.

6. African Penguin

African penguin reaches the shore, leaving beautiful footprints in the sand

Penguins, you know, those animals that live in the ice and snow, those animals that live in the cold. What are they doing in Africa?

This weird African animal occupies the Atlantic shores of South Africa and Namibia. Waddling across the beach and diving for fish, it fills its days in glee.

African penguins are also known as jackass penguins for the donkey-like braying sounds they make to communicate.

7. Okapi

The okapi almost looks like a mutant zebra or "forest giraffe"

On the verge of extinction, the okapi is a funny mix between a horse and a zebra. It still inhabits the forests of Northern Congo, around the Ugandan border.

This “forest giraffe” is dependent upon clearings and breaks in the canopy in order to feed. It forages a variety of rainforest plants, and will even eat fruits and fungi when available.

Very little is known on this elusive yet magnificent creature. So is it a horse or is it a zebra? Actually this weird African animal is an antelope.

8. Elephant Shrew

The elephant shrew has one of the most prominent noses in the animal kingdom

What is this little mouse-like insectivore with an imposing snout? Really, what is this little animal all about?

Elephant shrews are uncommonly seen yet distributed all across Southern Africa, in almost every biome. They are very funny to watch as they sniff out small invertebrates, gathering them with their weird tongue.

Out of the 15 species of elephant shrews widespread across the continent, our favourite has to be the golden-rumped elephant shrew. It has such a precious glossy coat! 🙂

Did you know that this weird African animal is one of the little five? You’ve probably heard of the big five African animals – lion, leopard, elephant, rhino and buffalo. They are relatively easy to encounter on a good African safari.

How about elephant shrew, buffalo weaver, leopard tortoise, antlion and rhino beetle!

9. Gerenuk

Male gerenuk in Tsavo National Park

One of Africa’s most elegant antelope species, gerenuk appear to be a cross between a gazelle and a giraffe.

Native to Kenya and other areas of East Africa, gerenuk stand high on two legs and reach for foliage that is out of reach for other antelope. That weird long neck? Well, it reaches all the way up to feed off the juiciest leaves.

Like springbok, gerenuk get all the water from vegetation. So they can browse in areas far from water, where predators cannot venture.

10. Springhare

The springhare is a strange "bunny" hare specimen

This weird African animal is an evolved hare species with kangaroo-like hind legs. Purely nocturnal, these vegetarian creatures live in pairs and are usually part of large communities that live in sandy soil burrows.

If you ever get the chance to stay at Ndutu Lodge (Ngorongoro Conservation Area, Tanzania), you will probably see them at night. The springhare’s eyes shine brightly in a spotlight, so you won’t have to search for them long.

11. Dung Beetle

Dung beetle rolling a ball of dung to lay its eggs (in Addo Elephant Park)

A weird animal that can help save the world, dung beetles roll up dung then burrow it underground.

These outstanding planetary citizens help to fertilise the soil and offset our carbon consumption. They recycle and up-cycle poop, helping to reduce CO2 emissions and perform a vital ecological function.

An animal that helps the world? That’s weird enough. Bust just take a look at how funny these creatures move across the African savannah!

12. Porcupine

Cape porcupine photographed at night in Botswana

A rodent with spikes, that’s how weird the porcupine is. Porcupines are now found all over the world and they have their origins in Africa.

These nocturnal herbivores forage along the ground and are somewhat of a delicacy, especially in parts of East Africa.

Those spiky quills are used as a form of defence, helping the porcupine stay off the dinner menu of African cats.

More Weird Animals in Africa

There are more than just 12 weird animals in Africa. There are hundreds, such as the pygmy hippo of West Africa.

So what’s your favourite weird animal? Maybe it’s a famous animal like the zebra – what is it with zebra stripes anyway? – or something unknown and bizarre.